FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The World After Obama

by

When United States President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he said: “Perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars.” Obama meant the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, although this is a modest answer. The U.S. had been involved in far more than two wars. In 2001, George W. Bush had committed the U.S. to a Global War on Terror at any time and at any place. U.S. Special Forces and drone aircraft had been involved in combat operations in far more than two countries.

No other country has as expansive a footprint as the U.S. There are 800 U.S. military bases in 80 countries, sentry posts around the planet for U.S. interests. Neither China nor Russia is not anywhere near the U.S. in terms of military reach. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the U.S. had no competitor on the global stage. It prosecuted war without worry or challenge. This was evident in Iraq in 1991. Lack of effective constraint on U.S. ambitions forced the leadership of the United Nations to sanctify America’s wars. After the fiasco of its Iraq invasion in 2003, the U.S. found its legitimacy eroded. The U.N. was dragooned to hastily pass a new mandate, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine of 2005, which suggested that U.N.-member states could intervene in a domestic conflict if civilians were being harmed.

Hillary Clinton’s Wars

Whatever Obama’s personal views on war, he was not surrounded by peaceniks. He had said that the Iraq invasion of 2003 had been the “bad war”. The U.S. attack on Afghanistan was, in contrast, the “good war”. Other “good wars” could be prosecuted, especially if they came with the imprimatur of R2P. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) war on Libya, for instance, was an R2P attack. Obama had been reticent. His Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, worked hard to convince him to bomb Libya. As Hillary Clinton’s adviser Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote in an email from March 19, 2011: “I have never been prouder of having worked for turning [the President] around on this.” Hillary Clinton responded three days later: “Keep your fingers crossed and pray for a soft landing for everyone’s sake.” Libya, which was Hillary Clinton’s war as much as that of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, started as the “good war”, but turned “bad” soon afterwards.

Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic candidate to succeed Obama. One of her arguments for her candidacy is that she exceeds the other party candidates in terms of foreign policy experience. But what does her experience amount to? The most important part of her resume is that she spent four years as Secretary of State in Obama’s first presidency. Key moments in her career show how she undermined the democratic interests of other countries on behalf of the planetary interests of the U.S. In 2009, Hillary Clinton’s department played an active role in the coup against Manuel Zelaya, the democratically elected President of Honduras. Unhappiness in Latin America did not deter Hillary Clinton, who wanted to hasten new elections under the coup administration to “render the question of Zelaya moot”, as she put it in her autobiography. The coup sent a message throughout Latin America: the U.S. had not forgotten that it would act on behalf of business interests and the military against any challenge to the status quo.

Soft coup

The next year, she played a key role in the resignation of Yukio Hatoyama, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Japan. Hatoyama had won a mandate to remove the U.S. military base at Okinawa. She travelled to Japan as Hatoyama tried to fulfil his pledge. She lobbied against the removal of the base, stoking up discontent among the political class. One of Hatoyama’s allies broke away. He resigned a few weeks after Hillary Clinton left Japan. It was a soft coup. The war on Libya in 2010 was Hillary Clinton’s most powerful experience. When the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was killed on the outskirts of Sirte, she said: “We came, we saw, he died.” It was a callous display of U.S. power. It is a window to how Hillary Clinton would govern as President: with an iron fist against any challenge to U.S. power.

Hillary Clinton is the measure of the U.S. establishment’s view of its authority and its need to drive an agenda in the world. The Republican who is closest to her is Marco Rubio, the young Cuban-American Senator from Florida. Both Rubio and Hillary Clinton believe that the U.S. is an exceptional country and that without U.S. leadership the world will sink into a morass. She delights in calling the U.S. “an indispensable nation” and suggests that there are few problems in the world “that can be solved without the U.S.”. “There is only one nation on earth,” Rubio said in 2014, “capable of rallying and bringing together the free people on this planet to stand up to the spread of totalitarianism.” Only the U.S. can do things. Others are themselves dangerous. China and Russia, for Rubio and Hillary Clinton, are living threats. “A gangster in Moscow is not just threatening Europe,” Rubio said colourfully last year, but “he’s threatening to destroy and divide NATO.” Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, had compared Vladimir Putin to Adolph Hitler. The establishment is pledged to push back against Russia. There is wide consensus on that. (See Diana Johnstone’s Queen of Chaos.)

If Russia can be easily portrayed as an ominous threat, the U.S. establishment is far more cautious about China. Both Hillary Clinton and Rubio admire former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who argues, in his book China, for collaboration between the two powers. Confrontation is not worth it given the interpenetration of the U.S. and Chinese economies. On Cuba and Vietnam, Rubio said that engagement had not brought freedom to these countries. When asked about China, he said: “From a geopolitical perspective, our approach to China by necessity has to be different from Cuba.” It is the words by necessity that indicate the Kissinger caution. Last year, Hillary Clinton ruffled feathers in Beijing when she questioned the leadership’s commitment to women’s rights. But this does not define her relations with China, which are far more pragmatic—in line with that of U.S. business interests. Clashing swords is bad for those interests who want a better deal rather than drama on the high seas.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.05.31 PM-1

Republican isolationism

If Rubio and Hillary Clinton mirror the establishment on war and trade, the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump comes at foreign policy from an idiosyncratic place. On the surface, Trump looks like an isolationist, someone who wants the U.S. to withdraw from entanglements around the world. He wants to build a giant wall around the country and use aerial power to discipline people around the world. Ted Cruz, a religious zealot, has made genocidal comments about this use of aerial power. He said he wants to bomb the Islamic State (I.S.) into oblivion to know “if sand can glow in the dark”. Trump said that his troops would dip bullets in pig’s blood to execute Muslims. It is vicious rhetoric. But at the same time Trump attacked George W. Bush’s 2003 Iraq War, calling it “a big, fat mistake, alright?”

Trump and Cruz are incoherent in their isolationism. They would not like to entangle the U.S. in wars and yet are eager to bomb their adversaries. Their isolationism is also anachronistic. The U.S.’ military is not only spread across the world, but its government sees itself as the world’s policeman. This policeman role is rooted in the maintenance of a set of trade and financial relations across the world. In other words, the U.S. military presence sets the terms for U.S. economic power, driven through the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund (where the U.S. was happy to back a second term for Christine Lagarde). A genuine isolationism would have to break with a foreign policy that protects the overseas interests of the U.S.-based transnational corporations and billionaires. But Republican isolationists would like the benefits of military power without its exercise. This is the heart of their confusion.

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders shares Trump’s views on the Iraq War but comes at the roots of power from a different perspective. Sanders said the U.S. “cannot and should not be policeman of the world”. This is a break with the consensus. When it comes to the power of Wall Street within the country, Sanders is clear as crystal. He is not publicly as clear, however, with the links between the trade and financial advantages gained by the U.S. from its military footprint around the planet. The only way to truly withdraw U.S. power would be to also recognise that this means that the U.S. will no longer have unbridled financial and commercial advantages across the planet. There is something of the prophetic voice in Sanders, fulminating against Wall Street and the billionaires. But when it comes to the world, he fumbles. It is not, as Hillary Clinton suggests, a lack of experience on his part. The rest of the candidates to succeed Obama are united on the view that the U.S.’ power must be untouched. Sanders seems to suggest that the era of U.S. power must come to an end. But he just cannot get himself to say so.

This article originally appeared on Frontline (India).

Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015).

More articles by:
May 31, 2016
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
Imperial Blues: On Whitewashing Dictatorship in the 21st Century
Vijay Prashad
Stoking the Fires: Trump and His Legions
Uri Avnery
What Happened to Netanyahu?
Corey Payne
Reentry Through Resistance: Détente with Cuba was Accomplished Through Resistance and Solidarity, Not Imperial Benevolence
Patrick Howlett-Martin
Libya: How to Bring Down a Nation
Bill Quigley
From Tehran to Atlanta: Social Justice Lawyer Azadeh Shahshahani’s Fight for Human Rights
Manuel E. Yepe
Trump, Sanders and the Exhaustion of a Political Model
Bruce Lerro
“Network” 40 Years Later: Capitalism in Retrospect and Prospect and Elite Politics Today
Robert Hunziker
Chile’s Robocops
Aidan O'Brien
What’ll It be Folks: Xenophobia or Genocide?
Binoy Kampmark
Emailgate: the Clinton Spin Doctors In Action
Colin Todhunter
The Unique Risks of GM Crops: Science Trumps PR, Fraud and Smear Campaigns
Dave Welsh
Jessica Williams, 29: Another Black Woman Gunned Down By Police
Gary Leupp
Rules for TV News Anchors, on Memorial Day and Every Day
May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What Happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail